Stuck in the Basement: An Evolutionary Reading of (Some Films by) Roman Polanski
To say that Roman Polanski is a controversial figure is not enough. It's admitted that he had sex with a minor (most likely consensual - if a 13 year old can legally consent to something like that). He never served any time for it. His wife was murdered by one of the most notorious killers or those around him of all time. Perhaps THE most known. He's made some incredible films. Chinatown, The Pianist, Rosemary's Baby, Knife in the Water, Carnage and Ghost Writer (that this writer has seen). He's also made a couple of forgettable, thought admittedly entertaining ones in The Ninth Gate and Frantic. Bitter Moon stands between these two extremes. It seems that a film dealing openly with sex and sexuality should pique one's mind who attempts to level the lens of evolutionary psychology at it. As you will see, this isn't actually the case.
To admit that men are obviously attracted to young women is not enough either. That being said, Polanski's film which deals most explicitly with sex is a mishmash of ideas and characters that shed no more light on who we really are as a group, and seems strangely ill-equipped to open the debate on niche sexual behavior as well. Neither his case, the documentary about it, or this film shed much light on human sexual behavior, but perhaps we can glean what radiance is available and point to better examples.
Polanski's attraction to younger women shouldn't shock any of us. His acting on it is, on the other hand, definitely disturbing. Bitter Moon deals with a couple that act on anything they feel and a British couple that act on relatively little that they feel, presumably, until the film begins. Polanski allows for little middle ground. Why can't we talk about what we feel before and - at times - in place of, acting on it. Oscar's (Peter Coyote) discussion of his current relationship's past is one way for Nigel (Hugh Grant) to live vicariously, but that isn't always enough. Here, we see repression of feelings as something that can severely damage ourselves and those around us.
According to people who care about stardom, Polanski didn't care much about his star in Hugh Grant (I'd venture that Peter Coyote was a bit more interesting to him). What a bizarre film! A second viewing was necessary to piece together the ideas and guttural reactions. Oscar needs to tell his story to someone, as perhaps his writing has never been successful enough to find the larger audience that many artists need to reach. Polanski is jabbing at the sad state of American sexual behavior here. Even when we find exactly what we want, in a young, beautiful, open-minded woman, we must prod more and more. Polanski is saying we're fools to go as far as Oscar, and yet Polanski himself has been sensationalized in the press, and his sexual life too is not enough. The bloody ending hints at a possible future for himself and his wife?
Sadly, the documentary about Polanski's action and its resulting consequences could have been taken from a more historical perspective; we can't yet hope for all documentaries to include an evolutionary approach. Do those with power, fame, etc often find ways of avoiding punishment after statutory rape? It's easy to see that they have access to this act more readily, but who is to say about the punishment avoidance? If we feel the power dynamic and see it objectively in our own society, it seems to be a fairly obvious conclusion. This most certainly makes none of his actions around this particular case alright. Here, we probably have a lot of "similarity" in mate selection a relatively low concern for the pursuer; Polanski is "smart" enough to feel slight tug from many social mores.
The film explores faux-bestiality, urolagnia, other salirophilia, and other less bizarre sexual fetishes; Polanski himself explored others. Men and women seek dominance over one another and other things. They experience pleasure in "conquering" their EEAs. The key here is melding this with a socially aware sense of fairness. If what we're doing harms no one else, and they consent to it, there should be no reason why any sane human could oppose it. Of course, at what point are we able to consent? How old must we be to say "yes" or "no"? These are questions that evolutionary psychology and a study of evolution can't answer; indeed they may point at best to a different time and a different stage of what we are now. The answers can't be the same in both places until we've dissected the differences.
What Roman Polanski did to the 13 year old girl will always be wrong to this writer. They will always mar his oeuvre. Here, we can look back at a different time and stage and proffer an answer. Ultimately, we have the choice and free will of consciousness. We can choose to attempt to have sex with minors. We can murder. We can do any number of other things that were necessities in the past, thousands of years ago before we set up a scaffolding to build ourselves to more enlightened vantage points. We can also say no, flip on the light switch, and slog our Sisyphean way out of the basement.
Bitter Moon, 1992, Polanski
Carnage, 2011, Polanski
Chinatown, 1974, Polanski
Frantic, 1988, Polanski
Ghost Writer, 2010, Polanski
Knife in the Water, 1962, Polanski
The Ninth Gate, 1999, Polanski
The Pianist, 2002, Polanski
Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired, 2008, Zenovich
Rosemary's Baby, 1968, Polanski
-Hugh Grant Interview, http://www.eclectica.org/v1n7/rigoulot_grant.html
-Roman Polanski, IMDB, http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000591/?ref_=nv_sr_3
-Roman Polanski, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Polanski
-Roman Polanski Sexual Abuse Case, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_Polanski_sexual_abuse_case
-Statutory Rape, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Statutory_rape
-Tate Murders, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Manson#Tate_murders
-The Mating Game Isn't Over: A Reply to Buller's Critique of The Evolutionary Psychology of Mating, Various, http://www.cep.ucsb.edu/papers/DeltonRobertsonKenrick2006BullerReply.pdf